Western states need a fuel crop

camelina - false flaxCamelina, a plant that flourished in Europe about 3,500 years ago, could become a major source of biodiesel, and is now planted – if not harvested – on millions of acres of marginal farmland from eastern Washington state to North Dakota. Camelina can grow in arid conditions and can produce more oil from its seeds for a lower price

Targeted Growth, a Seattle biotech firm that’s working to increase camelina yields “radically.” The company hopes to produce enough seed – about one-third the size of sesame seeds – to plant 1 million acres of camelina by 2009. [story]

Steven Guy, a professor at the University of Idaho and a crop-management specialist, was quoted as saying, “This is the most exciting crop I have seen in my 30 some years in this field.” [archived 5/30]

Montana farmer John Sheldon said he believes camelina will be a huge boon for Montana agriculture. “I can easily see getting 1,000 pounds per acre.” {with a 3/64th inch screen on the combine!)

This fuel yields chart compares a long list of crops. Useable in our current fleet, corn produces about 18 gallons per acre of alcohol for fuel blending with gasoline. Rapeseed biodiesel output is as high as 127 gallons. The easier to grow, lower input camelina produces 62 gallons per acre.

Pacific states, most significantly California, have strict sulfur emission regulations. However, sulfur acts as a lubricant in diesel engines, so something has to take its place. This is why some states require a biodiesel blend. Biodiesel produces significantly fewer sulfur emissions and still lubricates diesel engines. Western states pay $3 a gallon for soybean biodiesel.

About 85 percent of the biodiesel in the United States comes from soybeans grown largely in the Midwest and costly to ship west.

Almost ten years ago I was promoting Proctor & Gamble soybean biodiesel, the nation’s largest vendor at the time. Extensive presentations to urban transit systems such as AC Transit and Golden Gate Transit were designed to start moving our nation’s fuel matrix toward a diversified domestic production.